On March 20 the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the oral argument in “Miller v. Alabama”---a case about whether a sentence of life without parole for someone convicted of murder as a minor violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
And Saturday February 18 on C-SPAN Radio’s Historic Supreme Court Oral argument: A case cited in “Miller v. Alabama”. From 2005: “Donald Roper , Superintendent, Potosi Correctional Center Petitioner v. Christopher Simmons, Respondent”.
Christopher Simmons was sentenced to death in 1993, when he was only 17. A series of appeals to state and federal courts lasted until 2002, but each appeal was rejected. Then, in 2002, the Missouri Supreme Court stayed Christopher Simmon's execution while the U.S. Supreme Court decided “Atkins v. Virginia,” a case that dealt with the execution of the mentally ill. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing the mentally ill violated the 8th and 14th amendment prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment, the Missouri Supreme Court decided to reconsider the Simmons' case.
Using the reasoning from the Atkins case, the Missouri court decided, 6-to-3, that the U.S. Supreme Court's 1989 decision in Stanford v. Kentucky, which held that executing minors was not unconstitutional, was no longer valid.
On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the government argued that allowing a state court to overturn a Supreme Court decision by looking at "evolving standards" would be dangerous, because state courts could just as easily decide that executions prohibited by the Supreme Court---such as the execution of the mentally ill in the case “Atkins v. Virginia”--- were now permissible due to a change in the beliefs of the American people. The state of Missouri appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.
The audio and information in this program are courtesy of the Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law.